Review: THE WHISPER MAN by Alex North (2019)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Thriller
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

Trigger warnings: Child murder, blood, child abduction, alcoholism

Listening to this book on audio was certainly a choice. When I finish a long reading project like Kushiel’s Dart, I need a bit of a breather from long science fiction and fantasy. A contemporary thriller was such a great idea. And Christopher Eccleston did the audio? A bonus!

What a surprise of a novel this was. Equal parts police procedural and family drama, The Whisper Man is a spine-tingling time. In the village of Featherbank, Tom and his six-year-old son, Jake, seek a fresh start after tragedy strikes their family, only to find out that a copycat has been following the format of grizzly child murders which took place prior.

Where this book shines is its exploration of grief and family. So much time was spent going through the things lost to “smaller” tragedies and the ways that kids and adults deal with their problems. Jake has his imaginary friends, DI Pete turns to alcohol, and Tom has anxiety over trying his absolute best to be both parents. The way this novel handles its antagonist also fascinated me. Revealing the scoundrel at the very end could be tracked from start to finish, but this book is definitely more about the journey than the reveal.

Terrifying in times that left me suppressing screams, The Whisper Man is more about family than anything else, so definitely give this thriller a read.

Review: KUSHIEL’S DART by Jacqueline Carey (2003)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Series: Phèdre’s Trilogy #1
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2003
Source: Library eBook

Trigger warnings: Murder, self-harm, dubious consent, gore, sexual assault, suicide mentions
Content warnings: I cannot speak to the depiction of the Tsingani (who are clearly inspired by Romani/Travellers), but approach with caution
I had come into this book on a massive hype train once the option had been announced. It’s always been lurking in my TBR as something people greatly enjoyed and its small bit of notoriety for being “that one 900-page BDSM fantasy novel taking place in not-Europe.” Then someone had mentioned to me that this book does cool things with translations and characters talking across different languages.And there was so much more.

Kushiel’s Dart follows the tale of Phèdre no Delaunay and her land of Terra D’Ange in a totally-not-Europe featuring Viking, Picts, Romani, and an off-shoot of angelic totally-not-Jesus descendants with different gifts. She’d been blessed by Kushiel and served Naamah, which basically means she gets a lot of pleasure from pain. But there is so much more as she discovers a conspiracy, several people are murdered, she’s captured, and then suddenly there’s a war.

I arrived for the language, visited for the sexual content, stuck around for the intricately woven political intrigue and delightful characters. My lordy, did all of this stick so many landings. What I also enjoyed most, I think, was how badass a character Phèdre was, but in ways that don’t hinge on violence. She’s adept at language, appealing to emotions, sympathetic and empathetic, and other soft skills that are very important in a world where anyone might betray you.

But there are so many other things to like. For example, the battles, are super good! New character and cultural introductions, also well-executed. The world feels so thoroughly lived in, a bit dangerous, but there are enough small folk encountered to buffer the terribleness of most of the nobility.

The page count, I will admit, is rather intimidating. It’s about twice as long as books I would peg as massive, but it goes so quickly. Kushiel’s Dart is exactly the kind of road map and case study I needed to get into my own epic fantasy that’s in progress. I will, however, take a small break from door-stoppers, but I really want to know what else happens.

Review: COME TUMBLING DOWN by Seanan McGuire (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Series:  Wayward Children (1 through 5 published so far)
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library Audiobook

Listened to the audiobook.

The Wayward Children series is always such a treat. Concise quests brought to life in these rich worlds wrapped in a rainbow-colored bow of casual queerness.

The Moors are my favorite location in this series, hands down. So eerie, but so structured. The portal fantasy presented here is one of vampires, lightning, and medical experiments. Jack and Jill have swapped bodies. There was something special with the author reading her own representation of OCD through Jack. It was so effectively done.

As always with these series, so much characterization takes place in such a small set of pages. McGuire pulls it off with deft use of omniscient third. Each character feels fleshed out, even though I desperately hope we get to see Christoper’s skeleton world or the ocean. But none of those things needed to happen in this book.

The Wayward Children series also proves to be another example of a queer norm world, where the fact that Jack and Alexis are girlfriends hold no weight either in-world or hangs as a plot point. Kade is trans because Kade is trans and there’s not much to it aside from an aside to remind the reader of these facts.

Another eerie, disturbing, but captivating entry into my favorite series of portal fantasies.

ARC Review: THE VANISHED BIRDS by Simon Jimenez (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Science Fiction
Year Release: 2020
Source: Netgalley

Read my NetGalley eARC.

This book was such a whimsical, captivating journey from start to finish. In a village, a stranger visits on Shipment Day every few years, until one year, a mute boy falls from the sky. A designer baby (designed with imperfection in mind) creates a future in which visiting distant worlds is possible. While a captain only wants to protect her crew.

The structure and flow of this novel were something remarkable. Many books which I have read in multiple POVs generally announced whose story was to be followed at the opening of every section or chapter. Not in this one. Here, the reader had to trust the magic of Jimenez’s captivating prose to move seamlessly from one story line to another. This was especially important in the final part, where plot lines converged and tensions were at their highest.

This trust also came in the world-building. There wasn’t too much explanation into how things came to be, and the year in which the story takes place was only mentioned a handful of times. The reader came to understand the technology in the way the characters did, without too much build-up. It really came from the relationships between characters and their tech, which played out marvelous.

In addition, the queerness in this future is refreshingly casual. From the variety of relationships to the inclusion of M. being every character’s default prefix, I found this very refreshing. There was no world-building which explained its feature in this novel, it simply just was. In a panel I was on back in October 2019, we dubbed this queernorm and wow, was that normalized here.

If you want a lyrical story about found family and the human dangers of technological advancement, get lost in The Vanished Birds.

Review: BLACKFISH CITY by Sam J. Miller (2018)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Science Fiction
Year Released: 2018
Source: Library Audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

Some books get better upon a reread. But when you’re rereading your favorite book, how could it possibly get better? Well, let me tell you the ways.

In my first read, I was so enraptured with the dystopian whimsy of Qannaaq that I didn’t get a chance to dwell in many of the other levels. The specific way the world fell apart to create this near-future has not as much to do with climate change as much as it does with manufactured inequality and the evils of landlords and apartment economics. Being from New York City and seeing the story of how the stockholders gained power, the parallels were so easy to spot.

I’ve changed myself in the two years since I read this book, and wow, SOQ’s POV hit me differently upon reexamination. They are just so unapologetically themselves, but there’s a drive for human connection and fixing your own circumstances that are quite universal. The misfortune in the middle of the second act strikes a bit differently. Finding new appreciation for different facets is just part of the rereading experience.

Beautiful prose in a bleak cold comes a tale of finding family and standing up to the forces which broke the world in the first place.